College of the Canyons Combats Student Stress, Amid National Trend

Jerry Danielsen, a member of the COC Board of Trustees, talked to Santa Clarita Weekly about how the college is helping students deal with stress and get prepared for good-paying jobs.



June 1, 2024 - A recent study by the Lumina Foundation and Gallup paints a concerning picture of college student well-being.  Thirty-five percent of students nationally report considering leaving their program in the past six months, with emotional stress (54%) and mental health concerns (43%) cited as the top reasons.  This is a significant increase from 2020, highlighting the growing mental health crisis impacting college students.


The study, surveying over 14,000 current and prospective students, found that these concerns are particularly prevalent among bachelor's degree students, with two-thirds reporting emotional stress as a factor in potentially leaving school.  Interestingly, cost, traditionally a major barrier, now ranks third at 31%.


The trend extends to gender as well, with female students significantly more likely to report emotional stress and mental health concerns compared to males.


The study concludes that these declines in student well-being began before the pandemic and were exacerbated by COVID-19.  These findings align with the World Happiness Report, which reveals the U.S. falling out of the top 20 happiest countries for the first time, with declining youth happiness as a contributing factor.


Colleges and universities are reportedly increasing investments in mental health resources, but the study suggests these efforts haven't kept pace with the growing need.  Institutions face a critical challenge in retaining current students and attracting new ones amidst these concerning enrollment trends.


The Lumina Foundation-Gallup study paints a stark picture – a significant portion of college students are struggling with emotional stress and mental health concerns, leading them to consider leaving their programs.  But what does this look like on the ground, within colleges and universities themselves?


Jerry Danielsen, a member of the Board of Trustees for College of the Canyons (COC), went on Santa Clarita Weekly and weighed in on the study's findings, acknowledging, "Those are troubling statistics, and I think emotional stress can be lumped into mental health... I think that's a growing trend in our society in general with our political climate and the economic climate, and that trickles down onto our students and potential students."


Danielsen highlighted the broader societal pressures contributing to student stress.  "The stress level is higher now than it was years ago," he said, emphasizing the lingering effects of the recent COVID-19 Pandemic on top of pre-existing social and economic strains.


However, he also pointed out that declining enrollment is a complex issue affecting all educational levels.  "Declining enrollment exists in all levels of schools right now," he explains. "There are schools, like elementary schools, closing because of declining enrollment. It's not just college. There are less people having kids, or people moving away and that is part of it. Just the sheer number of people having children is coming up through the school system."


Jerry Danielsen was referencing the Saugus Union School District Governing Board’s recent decision to close Santa Clarita Elementary due to declining enrollment and stay financially solvent. The William S. Hart High School District has also faced critical funding issues and has been forced to lay off teachers and staff.


Despite these challenges, Danielsen emphasizes COC's proactive approach to student well-being.  "The College is trying to stay on top of that the best we possibly can," he states, citing the recent expansion of their counseling center.  This expansion offers students a variety of free short-term counseling services, including individual counseling, crisis intervention, group sessions, and workshops – all crucial resources for students grappling with emotional stress and mental health challenges.


Danielsen's perspective adds a valuable layer to the national statistics. While the study provides a broad picture, his insights reveal the real-world implications these trends have on colleges and universities, and the proactive steps institutions like COC are taking to address student needs.


Jerry Danielsen talked about the economic stressors that young people are facing, especially when it comes to finding good-paying jobs. He touted the College of the Canyon’s trade school programs, and he said that the College is fulfilling a need that is coming from local industry, including manufacturing.


“Again with manufacturing, there is a big future there, and we are staying on top of that with our Advanced Technology Center,” Danielsen said. “There is already a need for this, and we are building it out of the need. It’s industry driven; the need already exists. I believe it’s going to be two years or so when the 30,000 square foot facility opens. And we’ll have construction technologies, carpentry, plumbing, electricians, construction managers… CNC operators and tool operators and engineering technicians, certified logistics technicians. We’re going to have welding, fabrications, steel workers, pipe workers, robotic welders, and sheet metal technicians.”


Jerry Danielsen said that those jobs are “very well paid”, even if they may not be everyone’s dream jobs. An accomplished and celebrated composer who owns his own recording studio, Danielsen also touted the art programs at COC and how students can get jobs in the entertainment industry after graduation.


“I co-presented to the Board and to the public… that not only do we have a robust art program in theatre, in writing, in music, there are visual arts,” Danielsen said. “We have a new recording studio, and there are bands coming and concerts all throughout the year from students. So that is near and dear to my heart, and it’s good to raise awareness of that… Stigma is a strong word, but there are a lot of people who think the arts are fluffy, or they are good for personal development, but they are not as practical as welding or robotics… If you look in the LA area alone, which is local – we’re in LA County, there are hundreds of thousands of jobs in the film industry – as a filmmaker, as a sound person, as an editor. Those are the arts. What about video games? What about graphic arts?”


“We have film studios right out here in Santa Clarita Valley,” Danielsen insisted, highlighting opportunities for COC graduates right in their hometown.                                     


According to Jerry Danielsen, by offering practical solutions for both mental health and career aspirations, COC exemplifies the proactive measures colleges and universities can take to support student well-being and ensure their success.

Watch Jerry Danielsen's interview with Sage Rafferty below.

Santa Clarita Weekly

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